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US stocks inched up on Thursday, with traders eyeing the price of oil and taking a cautious stance ahead of Friday’s jobs report.

The S&P 500 climbed 0.05 per cent in early trading to 2,365.6, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up by the same margin to 20,865.3, and the Nasdaq Composite was little changed at 5,837.4.

The energy sector posted the biggest decline, dipping 0.5 per cent and extending its losses for the week to almost 4 per cent.

West Texas Intermediate, the US oil benchmark fell as much as 3 per cent to $48.79 a barrel. It had not traded below $50 on an intraday basis since mid-December, according to Bloomberg data. The price had recently rebounded to $49.74.

In addition to oil, investors were also bracing for the release on Friday of the February jobs report issued by the labour department. A survey by ADP showed a larger-than-expected increase in private-sector hiring last month, prompting some investment banks to increase their estimates for Friday’s report.

The data are particularly important since expectations for a Federal Reserve rate rise this month have jumped after numerous senior central bankers suggested the economy can withstand higher rates.

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